Mahmoud Tamimi climbs the trunk of the dead olive tree in the yard of his house, and hoists the flag of Palestine. He’s a boy of 13 who last Friday lost his older brother, 17-year-old Mohammed, who was shot to death by Israel Defense Forces soldiers while he was on his way to fetch Mahmoud. Their younger brother, Mustafa, is named for another Mustafa Tamimi, their cousin, who was killed by soldiers in 2011.
Mohammed Munir Tamimi was the fifth person killed in recent years in the village of Nabi Saleh, not far from Ramallah in the West Bank, almost all of whose residents are from the Tamimi clan. The neighboring village, Deir Nidham, is also a virtually all-Tamimi locale, and it’s where the family of the latest fatality, Mohammed, lived until they too moved to Nabi Saleh three years ago.
Complicated? A lot less than watching Mahmoud hang his national flag on the trunk of an olive tree, still utterly traumatized by his brother’s death. Of all the killings in Nabi Saleh, the death of Mohammed is perhaps the most criminal of all. The soldiers had no apparent reason to enter the village a week ago, when it was quiet – and even less of one to open the armored door of their jeep, shoot the youth in the stomach from close range and then close the door. And if that wasn’t enough, soldiers who were walking behind the vehicle fired more bullets at the wounded teen who was trying to flee for his life into an adjacent house, but collapsed, bleeding, on the way to its entrance.
Nabi Saleh called off its regular Friday anti-occupation demonstrations in 2016, after six years, when the IDF started to use snipers and live ammunition against the unarmed inhabitants. But more people have been killed there since the demonstrations ended than during the period when they were taking place. Mustafa Tamimi was killed in 2011, Rushdi Tamimi in 2012, Saba Ubaid from Salfit, another West Bank village, was killed in Nabi Saleh in 2017 and Izz a-Din Tamimi was killed in 2018. Now Mohammed Tamimi has joined the list.
On Friday the first rumor that spread was that it was Mohammed, the brother of Ahed Tamimi, the young activist-heroine of the Palestinians’ popular struggle, who had been killed. There are dozens and perhaps hundreds of people named Mohammed (or Mohammad or Muhammad) Tamimi. The teen who was shot was not Ahed’s brother, but her cousin. Ahed’s brother was with him when he was killed; the two youths were close.
Ahed’s father, Bassem Tamimi, one of the leaders of the struggle in Nabi Saleh, joined us during our visit to the events hall where the grieving family was receiving condolences in Deir Nidham. The bereaved father, Munir, speaks fluent Hebrew, having worked for decades in Israel and in the settlements. For 30 years, he’s worked as a home renovator and air-conditioner technician in the settlement of Beit Aryeh. He has many friends there who wanted to pay their condolences, he tells us, but he suggested that they refrain from visiting during the tense grieving period in the village.
“They are friends-brothers who wanted to come, but I want to make sure that no one will be hurt,” he says.
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The hall was half full when we arrived on Monday in the early afternoon. The stage bore decorations for a wedding, but the atmosphere was grim. Dried dates and bitter coffee, the standard fare.
Bassem Tamimi relates that a jeep arrived in Nabi Saleh around 4:30 P.M. and stopped at the gas station at the village’s entrance before proceeding. It was quiet at the time. During the years of the demonstrations, the IDF arrested about 400 locals, most of them adolescents and children, and including 16 women, out of a total local population of about 600. When the jeep drove in this time, youngsters began throwing stones at it. The soldiers fired tear-gas canisters, and a cloud of gas covered the village – a familiar experience. But Mahmoud, the younger brother of the deceased, recently recovered from cancer of the eye, and his mother, worried that the gas would endanger the recovering eye, sent Mohammed to the home of relatives where Mahmoud had been told to go, in order to bring him home. Their father was installing an air conditioner in the neighboring village of Deir Abu Mash’al at the time.
Munir, 52, has four remaining children. He’s a solidly built man, suited to his livelihood. He met his wife, Baraa, 40, in Jordan. Her family immigrated long ago to the United States, and she too has American citizenship. During the first 13 years of their marriage, Israel did not allow her to enter the West Bank, and the family was divided between Zarqa in Jordan and Nabi Saleh. Munir’s work is in the West Bank but his wife was not permitted to go there. He divided his life between here and there, crossing into Jordan every two or three months to see his family and then going back.
Debate over the Citizenship Law, which prevents reunification of families of Palestinians in Israel and has recently been in the news, ignores the fact that with equal cruelty the country is preventing even Palestinians in the West Bank from living with their partners from Jordan.
The Tamimi family was thus torn apart, until one day, the coveted entry authorization arrived and Baraa was allowed into the West Bank – but as a tourist, without residency status. That was eight years ago; since then she has remained there with her husband and children, under the aegis of a visa that has long since expired. Thus she doesn’t dare leave the West Bank to visit her family in the United States or to visit Jordan, knowing that Israel will not allow her back in. On one occasion she was detained at a checkpoint, but the soldiers let her go after she pleaded with them. She did not attend the funerals of her grandmother and grandfather in the United States. Now, because of coronavirus regulations, her mother was unable to travel from there to comfort her in her anguish over the loss of Mohammed.
Friday, July 23, Mohammed got up around 8:30 A.M. and went to work in the family’s olive grove ahead of the fall harvest. In the afternoon, as tear gas spread through the village, his worried mother sent him to find his younger brother Mahmoud and try to bring him home. According to his father, Mohammed didn’t do anything to provoke the soldiers. The IDF jeep stopped near him, its door opened and the one shot fired from it hit Mohammed. He doubled over in pain and tried with his remaining strength to flee, but then four soldiers on foot felled him with two more bullets.
The physicians who treated him later told his father that one of the three bullets exploded in the teenager’s stomach and did not leave a single internal organ intact. Everything is torn apart inside, they told him. The cousin Mohammed, Bassem’s shocked son, told his father that he “saw the rice spill out of Mohammed’s stomach.” According to Munir, who saw his son’s body in the small hospital in Salfit, one bullet struck him in his right hip, another entered via the back and exited through the stomach – or vice versa – and the deadliest bullet of all slammed into his buttocks and hurtled upward throughout his body, wreaking havoc.
Three videos were shot by three local eyewitnesses. In one clip, the armored door of the IDF vehicle is seen opening for a split second and the soldier next to the driver fires a shot and shuts the door; another soldier then opens the back door and closes it immediately. In the second clip, the jeep is seen in the street, being pelted by villagers with plastic chairs and rocks, without doing any damage. The third clip shows the bloodstains and people evacuating Mohammed from the path leading to a nearby house. It’s not clear what preceded what, but it’s even less clear what the jeep was doing there and why it stopped so provocatively in the middle of the village. The red-and-white flag of the Paratroops Brigade flaps in the wind above the fortified tower that looms over the entrance to the village, a sign that the soldiers who shot Mohammed also wore the telltale red berets.
Haaretz asked the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit why the army vehicle entered the village in the first place and why Mohammed Tamimi was shot. Why with live ammunition? And why with three bullets to the gut? The reply: “Following the incident in question, an investigation has been opened by the Criminal Investigations Department of the Military Police, after which the findings will be transferred for examination to the office of the military prosecution.”
Mohammed was apparently still semi-conscious when the neighbors rushed him in a small shared taxi to the hospital in Salfit; he mumbled that his stomach hurt. He died on the operating table. By the time his stunned father reached the hospital, it was too late.
When we visited this week, his brother Mahmoud, a pale boy with a sickly looking eye, took us to the place where Mohammed was killed and showed us the bloodstain on the road and another at the place where he fell, en route to the house.
As we left Nabi Saleh, we saw Ahed Tamimi returning from her studies at Birzeit University in her small car. In March 2018 she was convicted on four counts of assaulting an IDF officer and a soldier, and sentenced to eight months in prison. Her aunt and uncle were killed by the army. Another relative named Mohammed, 15, was shot in the head in 2017 across from her house by soldiers using a rubber-coated metal bullet; he lost an eye and remains disabled. Now her cousin Mohammed Munir Tamimi has been killed, too.